Monday, January 25, 2010

Profanity, Obscenity, and General Indecorum

It has been brought to my attention that there are readers who may be offended by the language in this book, and so this is what I'm addressing tonight.

There are a lot of different characters in this story, and while two of them in particular are very set AGAINST using curse words (in fact, I don't think the Aunts even like to say 'Oh my God'), a few of them use certain expletives casually. Most of these are in contexts such as this:

Phyllis confronts a bully, saying "..leave me the fuck alone." Yeah, it's harsh, but it's generally what people of the bullying demographic understand the best.

Quincy says "Oh shit, I'm late for work!" Quincy habitually uses expletives this way, as do many, EXCEPT for when he's around the Aunts.

Sid says "It's damn hard not to screw up in front of a crowd." Sid swears once in a while (Phyllis and Sid even discuss it later on) for emphasis, generally.

The word "fuck" appears several times in the book, and is generally used in anger or frustration (and a couple times by characters who are supposed to be "bad guys"). I completely understand being offended by expletives, and feeling that such language is "inappropriate." But the truth is, swearing's become a part of American culture. You can't sit through most movies without hearing swear words.

Yes, if my book were a movie, it would be RATED R.

You might ask, how then can it be appropriate for something who is under 17?

Look. If you've ever been to a public (or Catholic) high school, you've probably heard countless swear words, in halls, in buses, at lunch tables. And that's also where some of the swearing takes place in this book. Phyllis's friend Key swears an awful lot, and so do the jocks in the jock scene. In high school, you're going to hear about other people having sex, you're going to hear people being called horrible names; you're going to hear CURSE WORDS. It's apparently become a part of the human condition. No, it's not necessary. But it's true. And ESPECIALLY in portraying life in a high school, I was concerned with portraying the TRUTH.

The truth is guys call other guys faggots. Whore and slut are thrown around. Girls call each other bitches. And the F-Bomb is used in every possible way. The weirdest one is "ass." A lot of people like adding "ass" to the ends of adjectives. "A little-ass kid," "a pretty-ass girl" and such. It's true. In some parts of life (and high school, and town) you're going to hear curse words on a regular basis.

Now, Phyllis's house isn't supposed to be like that. Phyllis's Aunts are religious, they're pretty morally tight, I'd say. Phyllis isn't allowed swear- so when something goes wrong in her mind, she does it there. Not a lot, but it does happen.

The other instances where heavy cussing occurs are arguments. Anna the Opera Singer and Sid get into a couple of big fights, and even the Aunts can't get them to tone it down. These are two characters with volatile, uncontrollable tempers, and oftentimes when one is very angry and has little time to compose oneself, swear words are the quickest, easiest way to make one's point. In the heat of an argument people say things they regret, and may even do it using expletives.

I'm not a person who goes around swearing. I don't walk out of the house in the morning and yell out "FUCK" as soon as I see someone. But I acknowledge that some people swear heavily, that there are particular uses and times for particular words, and that sometimes, things just fly out. None of the main characters of my book's family are supposed to be trashy or utterly offensive (not in this book anyway).

I also acknowledge that there are those who find that sort of language to be inappropriate and classless. And, sure, sometimes it is. But it's a part of life, especially for most high school students. My little brother started hearing swear words on the bus in fifth grade. My younger friends assure me that they hear all kinds of bad words in school, whether they're in high school or junior high. And I did, too.

So my apologies to those who are offended by the language in the book, but it used only for purposes of personification, amusement, get the idea. I urge readers (and this is not only in the case of my book) NOT to let language that you disapprove of get in the way of reading or hearing a good story. There are plenty of classics that are chockfull of expletives, and plenty of best-sellers and appreciated works that include them as well. Certainly the way I use them in my book are not always the most intelligent, and it's completely up to reader discretion to decide whether or not to read books and to reason why. I don't read certain books for little to no reason at all, sometime.

While I'm on this subject-
There are also discussions of what some may consider "inappropriate" subjects, such as homosexuality, drugs (in the context of a renter who needs to be kicked out), sexuality, and loss of virginity. All of which, also, you're going to hear about in a public high school.

So, in conclusion, this book is RATED R for language and discussion of mature subjects.

Oh, and don't think that I think there has to be swearing in books. A good book is a good book, swearing or no swearing. That is my stance.

And in other news, check out Amber Skye the Reading Addict's blog! She was kind enough to interview me and post it there!

Also, soon I'll be posting a follow-up for "The Eternal Ones."

Thanks for following, Emma! New goal is 28!


  1. I completely agree that a good book is a good, whether or not swearing is involved. If someone thinks a few swears constitutes a 'bad' book, then they aren't reading it for the story, but for the words laced together.

    The world we live in today is full of people who swear left and right. I've never really used swears in my home, except for the occasional slip, but I have the mouth of a sailor when I'm around my friends. They swear and it just rubs off, so to say that swears should not be used in books is unrealistic and not true to the real world.

    I'm looking forward to reading A House Afire and I expect it to arrive in the next few days, so it's next on my list.

  2. Every book has its audience and every book has its critics. I agree with your take on this issue.

    I bounced over from Amber's blog to say hi. Glad I did.

  3. Hi Shannon, I'm glad you did too. Thanks for following!